Catholics living near or visiting the nation’s capital have a rare opportunity to view amazingly realistic depictions of events in Christ’s life and the lives of saints, including the Passion of Christ and a portrait of St. Francis of Assisi in ecstasy that’s never been displayed outside the cathedral of Toledo, Spain.

Through May 31, the National Gallery of Art is presenting the exhibit “The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700.” The exhibit features paintings and sculptures by Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Zurbaran, Francisco Pacheco and Pedro de Mena, among others. The National Gallery, which organized the exhibit with the National Gallery, London, is the only U.S. venue to display the exhibit.

During the Spanish Counter-Reformation, religious patrons challenged artists to create lifelike artworks to inspire devotion and encourage emulation of their holy subjects. Therefore, the sculptures have been meticulously painted, and many incorporate glass eyes and ivory teeth in their sculptures. Some of them have been dressed in real clothing. Saints depicted in the exhibit are St. John of the Cross (above), St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Borgia and St. Mary Magdalene.


Five weeks after being beaten unconscious by police in Czechoslovakia while covering street protests for the Chicago Tribune, Paula Butturini was sitting at home in Warsaw on Christmas Eve, waiting for news of her husband of less than a month. A reporter for The New York Times, he was in Romania covering the overthrow of the communist regime. 

News did come, in the clattering of a telex: Her husband had been shot by a sniper and was near death. 

Somehow he survived multiple emergency surgeries in a Romanian hospital, an airlift to Germany and more surgeries there. But as physical health returned, he was struck with depression that tested Butturini’s faith and young marriage. 

In “Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy” (Riverhead, $25.95), Butturini tells of relocating to Rome, where they had first met, to find comfort in the simple rituals of Italian daily living. First of all, in food. 

With an Italian-Catholic upbringing in Bridgeport, Conn., Butturini also sought solace in the silence of one of Rome’s many churches. After her daily early-morning visit to the open-air vegetable market, she would rest her bundles on the marble floor of St. Brigid’s, kneel for a moment, and sometimes discover through horrified tears that she’d pounded the pew in front of her with her fist, sending the hollow sound echoing through the empty church. 

It took many years (and many meals) but healing came. 

We know man does not live by bread alone. But the simple ritual of food preparation and the communal meal not only offers a foretaste of the heavenly banquet; it may be a way to make it there.


Discussion of the attire of women Religious is usually restricted to whether or not they wear a habit. But they may have inspired a top designer at Paris Fashion Week. 

Earlier this month, Stefano Pilati, who designs for Yves Saint Laurent, showed off a collection that had models in attire with (relatively) modest hemlines and blouses. Style reporters took notice, but they weren’t complimentary. 

Los Angeles Times blogger Booth Moore said, “the black caplets, crisp white shirts with clerical-looking collars, and floppy black hats that hugged the face almost like veils made me wonder whether [Pilati] had watched too many reruns of ‘The Flying Nun.’” The New York Times reviewer Eric Wilson dragged out a tired cliché when he noted “that you expected Sister Mary Margaret to come swooping down the runway and rap you on the knuckles with a ruler.”